As Spring is here and people will be outside playing sports, I find it exhilarating to be able to blog on a sports-related wage-hour issue.  One, amazingly, that has gone up to a federal appellate court.  In this case a group of volunteer golf attendants sued for wages, asserting they were really employees.  The lower court dismissed the case, and the Eleventh Circuit has now agreed.  The case is entitled Adams et al. v. Palm Beach County and issued from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Court ruled that the attendants were aware from the commencement of their tenure that they were volunteers.  Interestingly, the attendants did not claim they were promised wages for their efforts.  Indeed, when the County advertised for the positions, it made clear they were unpaid, volunteer positions with the benefits of the engagements” being outdoors, getting to know others with similar interests and reduced fees to play and practice golf.”  The plaintiffs all volunteered at the Osprey Point Golf Club.

The attendants claimed that the price reductions they received on rounds of golf as a perk were really wages, but in a different form.  The Eleventh Circuit rejected that argument, agreeing with the lower court that these discounts were “reasonable benefits.”  The workers also claimed that these duties were more than volunteers traditionally performed but the Court shot this down as well, finding there to be no per se limit on activities volunteers could perform.

The Eleventh Circuit noted that the attendants, by asserting claims as to the importance of their duties were, in essence, admitting that were aware that their work was integral in providing benefits to residents of the county.  That was a key component of the concept of “volunteer” under the pertinent federal regulations.  The Court also noted that the volunteers enjoyed the golf benefits during their entire tenure.

The Takeaway

There is a host of FLSA regulations defining what a “volunteer” is and what they can and cannot do.  It seems here these people wanted it both ways-enjoy the perks that came with being a volunteer and then turning around and claiming they were really “employees.”  The case is also a lesson for employers who wish to use volunteers to familiarize themselves with the FLSA principles because if someone is incorrectly classified as a volunteer, the results will be (possibly) significant wage violations, dependent upon the number of such people.

Don’t get caught in the sand trap…